LSU-Florida

LSU interim head coach Ed Orgeron applauds his team as the Tigers get pumped up for kickoff against Florida on Saturday.

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

Ed Orgeron stood way out on the apron of the football field, signaling for his final timeout, with 0:03 showing on the Tiger Stadium clocks.

Fourth-and-goal. One play for ... everything, really. For the win. To stay on track for the Sugar Bowl. For, in all likelihood, Orgeron’s career as LSU’s coach.

It’s funny how circumstances can circle back on themselves. It’s funny, as former LSU great Todd McClure said on the postgame radio show, how many lives can change because of one foot. Or one tick of the clock.

Les Miles got fired in September because what were then his Tigers came up one tick short, scoring a touchdown that didn’t count because LSU mismanaged the clock and failed to get the snap off on time.

Now Orgeron, for all his pulling of the rope and one heartbeat, looks like he may come up one score, one play, one yard short, too.

Derrius Guice ran the wrong way on the final carry, Orgeron said, a remarkable bit of candor for a coach who perhaps has no reason not to be candid at this point. And, officials said, Guice fumbled. Either way, he came up short of the goal line on fourth-and-goal, and LSU came up a 16-10 loser against a Florida team it was favored over by nearly two touchdowns.

It may have been a harsh statement by Orgeron; a lot of coaches in that circumstance would not reveal what happened or should have happened on such a critical play. But no one has been asked to live up to a harsher standard of excellence than Orgeron in his seven-game “audition” for the LSU job, against as difficult a November finishing schedule as you could devise.

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Well, Orgeron’s Tigers are now 1-2 in November after being shut out by Alabama, throttling Arkansas and frittering away a loss to a plucky, incensed Florida team (“Question the Gators?” coach Jim McElwain asked incredulously after the game. How dare they!) that was down six starters injured over just the past three weeks.

There’s a game remaining in just a few days — Thanksgiving night at Texas A&M. But as in a seven-game series in baseball or basketball, LSU and Orgeron may have lost too many games to this point to help him.

Conventional wisdom said Orgeron, after the Alabama loss, needed to win out to stand a better than average chance of becoming LSU’s permanent head coach. He didn’t, and now LSU will likely look elsewhere.

“To me, the most important thing is that we hire a coach who will develop a culture of excellence — excellence in everything that we do,” LSU athletic director Joe Alleva said during a halftime radio interview. “Not just on the football field but in the classroom and in the community. Excellence is not just something you strive for during the three or four hours a day while you’re playing football. Excellence is something you strive for constantly in your life. I want a coach who’s going to strive for excellence and hold our kids accountable and develop a winning culture here so we’re competing for championships on a regular basis.”

This LSU season has been a disappointment, an underachieving campaign for a program that has underachieved since that shocking 21-0 shutout to Alabama in the 2012 BCS title game.

Including that loss and this loss, LSU is 43-19 in that span. That’s a .693 winning percentage — not bad, but certainly not elite. Not excellent. With LSU’s Sugar Bowl hopes now flambé, the Tigers will finish in some middling bowl worthy of LSU’s standing as a second-class college football power.

It's going to be up to the next man up to change those fortunes after LSU won two national titles and contend for a few more in the past decade.

It’s going to have to be someone other than Orgeron.

Senior cornerback Tre’Davious White wishes LSU would not turn away. He sees the culture changes Orgeron has made to this program in just two short months on the job and wishes Coach O could stay.

“I’m for him,” White said. “He’s changed the mindset of this team, the way we prepare, the enthusiasm we bring to practice. There’s not another guy I’d rather play for. And I can speak for the whole locker room. I hope he gets the job. To me, he’s the perfect guy for the job. He’s a Louisiana native. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

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What does get better is the week LSU had leading up to and including this game. The Tigers aimed trash talk at Florida and skirmished with the Gators before the game, an incident that may have led Leonard Fournette to try to play on his gimpy ankle when sources told The Advocate before the game that he wouldn’t.

Fournette clearly wasn’t anywhere close to full speed, and there are times when his effort, while admirable, may have hurt the Tigers. His coaches should have told him to sit. The inmates, as well-intentioned as they may be, can’t run the asylum.

Kudos to Coach O, but it appears it’s going to be someone else’s asylum to run.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.​